Preparing for 5G: Vanderslice Wants To Be Proactive

At the Dec. 7 Board of Selectmen meeting, “Preparing for 5G” was a key item on the agenda.

While describing the process as “complicated and complex,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice urged the Board of Selectmen to be proactive in the inevitable movement to adopt 5G technology.

Recognizing the growing demand by Wilton residents for better wireless and internet service, Vanderslice told the board, “Everybody is just frustrated, and this pandemic and the August storm have just demonstrated even more strongly why we have to look at this.”

Why is 5G Important?

5G stands for 5th generation, the latest global standard for wireless networks. Compared to 4G, 5G will deliver higher data speeds, greater capacity and greater connectivity. A movie that might have taken nearly an hour to download before might take only a few minutes with 5G.

5G will also dramatically reduce “latency”, the gap between the time data is sent and received (for example, the delay that occurs between live streaming of an event and the actual event). Reducing latency is important in everything from online gaming to the remote control of medical devices, anything that requires precision or responsiveness.

The higher level of performance and efficiency of 5G will allow for better user experience, new applications and even entirely new industries. 5G even has the potential to become an alternative to cable or other “wired” internet service in our homes.

5G Is Coming

In fact, it’s already here. Virtually all of the U.S. carriers like AT&T and Verizon have already launched some form of 5G network. Still, most of the technology and applications that take full advantage of 5G aren’t expected to be widespread until late 2021 or 2022.

But the preparation for that is happening now in cities and towns across the country.

At the Dec. 7 meeting, Vanderslice updated the BoS on a major 5G initiative undertaken by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, or WestCOG. (Wilton is a member of WestCOG, along with 17 other contiguous towns spanning from Greenwich to New Milford, that deals with transportation, economic and other planning to improve quality of life and prosperity in this “gateway region”.)

The 5G initiative is being led by WestCOG’s Land Use Planning for Wireless Telecommunications Task Force. The task force’s mission is to “create a coordinated development strategy to best serve the citizens and businesses of Western Connecticut. It will work within the authority of municipalities towards making Western Connecticut a digital leader while preserving the unique character of its communities.”

Wilton’s Director of Planning & Land Use Management Michael Wrinn is on the task force, along with Vanderslice.

Wrinn and Vanderslice shared with the BoS their overall thoughts on the task force’s recent report that provided numerous recommendations for municipal 5G planning.

“I have to say, this is probably the best thing I’ve seen from WESTCOG,” Vanderslice said enthusiastically. “I think the report and the recommendations [the task force] released will be the definitive document for the entire state of Connecticut.”

Why Is P&Z Involved?

“A lot of this [report] is zoning driven,” said Vanderslice.

5G service requires the installation of small cell wireless facilities (SWF’s). Unlike large, obtrusive cell towers, SWF’s can be installed on a wide variety of structures, such as billboards/signs, chimneys, church steeples, rooftops, traffic signals, lamp posts, utility posts and more.

Much of the task force’s work involves making recommendations to municipalities for revising local permitting procedures, creating model ordinances towns can follow, and identifying priority zones for 5G facilities (often underserved communities). Their recommendations would be in FCC compliance and in anticipation of potential concerns of residents.

The report details which SWF sites a municipality would have authority over, and which would fall under the jurisdiction of other entities (such as the CT DOT or PURA).

Taking Control, Being Proactive

“Clearly, we want to have some control over what goes on,” said Vanderslice.

While nothing in the report is mandated for member towns, Vanderslice urged the BoS to be proactive. “Towns can take the position that they’re going to facilitate [5G] or they can take the position they want to make it more difficult. I’d like Wilton to take the position of [facilitating it].”

She added, “You either prepare for this by being proactive, in doing the zoning and other [P&Z] initiatives that are required, or you don’t want this and you’re going to let the [wireless] companies drive the bus.”

Wrinn echoed the need for proactivity.  “We want to be proactive. You have the ability to control our own destiny with this… We’re trying to be proactive starting with the zoning regulations that will give us the backbone in order to have the [Connecticut] Siting Council listen to what we have to say, to set a parameter for anyone who comes in.”

Vanderslice noted that resident education will be key. “There’s a lot of misconception, lack of knowledge about what [5G] is… the Energy and Utilities Commission can help, and they can start with educating people on this, what is and what it isn’t.”

There may be a desire to move quickly, but Wrinn said, “It’s a very complicated endeavor” and cautioned that “It’s a little tricky trying to figure out how fast we should try to get this going… trying to figure out when this rollout is coming. But the takeaway here is that we are starting the process.”

Importantly, Wilton is not trying to do it alone. The town is engaging experts/consultants as needed and also benefitting from collaborative efforts with other towns on information-sharing, legal issues, and best practices.

Both Vanderslice and Wrinn reminded the board of the tremendous need for 5G advancement. “It is very important, said Wrinn. “I think it’s very needed for the town.”

Details of the task force’s report can be found on the WESTCOG website.